Tuesday, January 28, 2014

12th Man Fever

I have a confession to make.  It's a dark and uncomfortable secret that I've carried with me my whole life.  I know it will completely disgust some of you, but it's probably best if I just come right out and say it.  Okay (deep breath) here goes:  I am not much of a sports fan.

Whew!--glad that's out of the way.  Now, those of you still reading, hear me out for a minute.  After all, one can't just go around saying they're not a sports fan in this day and age without offering some sort of explanation.  I should clarify a couple of tings.  First, I do like playing sports.  I'm terrible at it, but it is fun for me.  Second, I like attending sporting events, particularly if I don't have to pay for it.  Being in the ball park or at the football or soccer game in the presence of all that energy, there's nothing like it.  What I don't understand is watching endless hours of games on TV, or worse, listening to endless hours of games on the radio, that really have very little value in the scheme of things.  It all seems like a lot of time and resources spent on something that is here and gone with very little impact on anything except possibly the wallet and the waistline.  I'm really not trying to be insulting.  I'm sure there are people who see my obsessions as wastes of time and money, too.  And that's cool.  They're wrong, but that's cool. ;)

But in spite of all that--I've caught the fever...and even cowbell can't cure it.

A variation on the "Go Hawks" wall spelled
out in 12 packs
I live in the Seattle area and, as I'm sure many of you know, our little football club has done pretty well for itself this year.  12th Man Fever has been everywhere around here all season long.  T-shirts, jerseys, hats, flags, tattoos, theme days at my kids' school, all sorts of things.  I went to Wal-Mart a few weeks ago and 12 packs of Pepsi products were stacked into a giant blue (Pepsi) wall with "Go Hawks" spelled out in green (7-Up) and Grey (Diet Pepsi).  It was really something, I must admit.  And then the Seahawks made it to the NFC Championship and things really went crazy:  I WATCHED THE GAME!!!

Not only did I watch it, but I found myself yelling at the TV--and when they won, I jumped up on my coffee table and yelled, "we're going to the Super Bowl!!!!!!"

So, what would cause me, the most apathetic non-sports fan in the history of non-sports fans do such a thing?  12th Man Fever.  I do believe it is contagious.  If you live around here, sooner or later, you're going to catch it.  It's a disease of Northwest Community.  This part of the country is divided by a lot of things:  urban and rural, left and right, it rains a lot so we spend a lot of time indoors rather than in community settings, union and non-union, pro-life and pro-choice, Starbucks and Tully's.  But, in spite of all those things and more, 12th Man Fever unites us all.  It reminds us that (to liberally paraphrase John Donne) "no Hawk is an island."  We are all connected to the whole:  the eleven men on the field and the single, massive entity called "The 12th Man," which exists everywhere Seahawks fans are found.

Yes, it is all wrapped up in one little buzzword:  "community."  We have varying beliefs, opinions, gifts, interests, social status, financial status, and political leanings, but we are one 12th Man.  Sounds an awful lot like Paul's descriptions of the Church in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4--one body, many members.  The Church is full of differences.  Here are a few examples translated into 12th Man terminology.

Some of our very loud hometown fans.
  • Worship:  some paint their faces half blue, half green and supply half of the 127dB level at the CLink (that's Century Link Field here in Seattle to the uninitiated).  Others quietly wear their Hawks t-shirt on the couch at home.

  • Theology:  some know every stat for every player dating back 50 years and every minor rule down to the smallest detail.  Others are glad there are refs and sportscasters who know all of that so they don't have to.

  • Fellowship:  Some love being in the presence of 65,000 fans (very, very loud fans).  Others prefer a small gathering of a few close friends.

  • Evangelism:  some appreciate the in your face style of Richard Sherman.  Others prefer the classy, humble approach of Russell Wilson.
Richard Sherman
Russell Wilson

Naturally, as the church, we are to be individual as well as one large entity or community.  If a region as diverse as the Pacific Northwest can find itself united around something that, in the scheme of things, is really not that important--search your feelings, you know it to be true--then surely, the Church that claims to be the Bride of Christ can unite around something that really does matter:  the Savior Jesus Christ Himself.

So, can we lay aside our petty bickering and focus on the things that really matter?  We will have differences of non-essential theology and practice and that isn't necessarily bad, but we need to keep perspective.  We must keep the essentials essential and the non-essentials non-essential.  Let's not confuse the two.  We may worship in different buildings with different styles of music, methods of baptism and communion and views on pre-destination, but we are ONE BRIDE of Christ.

So, even though I don't rise and fall by the season record of our local team, I am still happy to see "Go Hawks" spelled out in Pepsi products.  To see 12th Man flags flying from cars on those stupid little poles that attach tot he windows.  To see region wide "Blue Day" celebrated at school and work.  To see the 12th Man united in one voice "Go Hawks!"  My greatest hope is that the Bride of Christ will be as united as the 12th Man.
The 12th Man flag flying over the CLink.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

HOLYwood Surprise for 2014

You gotta love that tagline!
I enjoy taking a look at the big upcoming movies for any given year.  2014 has its share of interesting offerings, about 80% of them sequels and remakes (okay there might be some hyperbole there, but check out imdb.com for more info on that.)  In looking through the lists of the most anticipated films of 2014, one thing absolutely shocked me:  there are TWO major biblical epics coming out this year. 

These are not hole-in-the-wall films by nobody filmmakers either.  The first is Noah (The end of the world...is just the beginning) directed by daring and innovative Darren Aronofsky.  He is best known for the films Requiem for a Dream, the Wrestler, and the very weird Black Swan.  The other director, Ridley Scott, has tread the historical territories before in Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, (as well as the future with Alien, Prometheus, and Blade Runner) but goes back farther than he ever has before with Exodus, the story of Moses.  Together, these guys have rounded up a truckload of Oscar nominations over the years (though neither have ever won), and both have received massive critical acclaim for many of their films.

Russell Crowe as the title character in
Darren Aronofsky's Noah.

Christian Bale as Moses in Ridley Scott's Exodus.

So, why is this surprising?  Well, considering that the last major biblical film, The Passion of the Christ, was released ten (yes, ten!) years ago to massive controversy and even more massive box office with barely a grain of ancient holy land sand since that time, it’s pretty amazing.  The only other bible movie of any note to come out in those ten years is The Nativity Story, which is a nice little movie, but has had very little impact culturally.  Biblical films have not been quite so absent from television, particularly the very successful “The Bible” featured on the History Channel last year.  Personally, I had a hard time getting past the kung-fu angels rescuing Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah, but that’s just me.

A Kung Fu angel in "The Bible" on
The History Channel.

An all-star cast coudn't make The
Greatest Story Ever Told
 more than mediocre.
Biblical films have been around since the dawn of film making.  A few of them are pretty good.  Most of them are very, very bad.  Even those made by very good filmmakers haven’t always fared so well.  The great John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, and many, many others) made quite a turkey with The Bible:  In the Beginning and George Stevens (Shane, Giant, A Place in the Sun) made one of the worst Jesus films with The Greatest Story Ever Told, starring Swedish Ingmar Bergman favorite Max Von Sydow as the blondest, bluest eyed Jesus ever on film.  Other bits of, shall we say, unusual casting include José Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Pat Boone as the angel at the tomb, Jamie Farr (Klinger from M*A*S*H*) as a disciple, Telly Savales as Pontius Pilate, Charleton Heston (in an especially scenery chewing performance, even for him) as John the Baptist, and...wait for it...John Wayne as the Centurion at the crucifixion.  His big line is- and you have to imagine it in John Wayne's voice, "surely this man was the Son 'a God."  And, let’s face it, even Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments doesn’t hold up all that well anymore, but I suppose that film is still loved by many.

Director John Huston as Noah in The Bible: In the Beginning

Biblical films have often sparked major controversies.  Some of the earliest films about Jesus were condemned for even depicting such a holy life on such a “vile” medium.  More recent controversies have been over content; the two biggest being over Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  I’ll go deeper into these controversies in future posts, but it’s interesting that each of these films essentially put an end to biblical film for years (decades in the case of Last Temptation.) 

Personally, I’m happy to see new biblical films being made.  Whether of not they are biblically accurate, they get people talking and thinking about biblical issues.  This isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.  Even the “anti-christian” films like Last Temptation and The DaVinci Code open the dialogue.  They are great ways to start a conversation.  It remains to be seen what the effect of Noah and Exodus will be, but I’m looking forward to the discussion.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Having An Epiphany

Believe it or not, yesterday was Christmas.  Okay, yesterday was the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season according to the ancient church calendar.  In many places around the world, the old church calendar is still followed and celebrated, though in the United States, the practice has somewhat gone out of fashion.  Two seasons are still celebrated in many mainline denomination churches:  Advent and Lent, but the other seasons are generally limited to one day celebrations including Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.  Though in reality Christmas lasts twelve days; Easter, fifty days; and Pentecost, the rest of the year up to the first week of advent.  So, where are we now?

Today, we stand in the gap:  Epiphany, lasting from January 6 until Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, or to some of you, the day after Mardi Gras. 

So Epiphany, what’s that all about?  Well, it generally celebrates three events:  the visit of the Magi, the presentation of Jesus at the temple and Simeon’s declaration of having seen God’s salvation in Jesus, and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  All three of these are pretty cool things, but I want to focus on one in particular:  the visit of the Magi.

We’ve all heard the song, “We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar.”  (Or, the elementary schoolyard version, “we three kings of Orient are, tried to smoke a rubber cigar, it was loaded and e  So, the song calls them kings, many translations of scripture call them “wise men,” but the word in Greek is “magi.”

xploded, now two kings are we.”)

So, who were these guys?  From the scriptural text, I think it can be assumed that they were not “kings” in the sense that we think of.  Wise men-well, let’s face it, that’s just dodging the question.  The term “magi” is the root of our English word “magician.”  It is believed by many that these people (not necessarily even men) were astrologers from the east, possibly in or around modern day Iran.  They could even possibly have been Zoroastrian priests!  Can you imagine it!  See how shocking this is and why it is only included in ONE gospel!  These people were not just Gentiles, disliked but tolerated, but Pagans who believed that life on earth was determined by the stars!  Not only that, but they consulted the hated King Herod whose very name was an affront to Judaism because of his murder of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18) and his willing cooperation with the Romans. 

In my former life as a church worship director, I built a Christmas Eve service around the idea of the great gifts of Christmas and linked them to Christmas Scriptures.  The first gift was God comes in human form, the second was God comes to the least-the shepherds, and the third, represented by the Magi, was God comes to us all.  This is remarkable.  The only begotten Son of God leaves His throne to provide a way of salvation for His friends, but also His enemies…and let’s face it, we’ve all either been or still are enemies of God.  But He came for all of us.  Not just the righteous, or the wealthy, or the learned, or the religious among us, but in Jesus Christ, God shows us His unique care for the unrighteous, the poor, the uneducated and the unreligious of this world.

There’s an interesting section of the text of Matthew 2, where the story of the visit of the Magi is found.  I think it’s my favorite line of the passage, “they returned to their country by another route.” (v.12b NIV)  Okay, I know the text is talking about a physical return to their country by another physical route, but I can’t help but thing they returned to their country a different way; that their encounter with the young Jesus and family changed them.  The verses previous say they were “overjoyed,” they “worshiped Him” and “presented Him with gifts.”  What a miracle, God created an astrological event that called these stargazers to Himself.  They are so moved by it all, that they worship, probably for the first time in their lives, the one thing worthy of true worship.  God gifts these magi with the opportunity of being among the first to gaze upon His plan for the salvation of all humanity.  How could they not go home different?  I can't help but believe that the magi had an epiphany.  (You see what I did there?)

So, it’s Epiphany, is it just for the religious?  I would say not!  It’s a celebration of the gift to all of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.  A gift of truth and it’s true whether you believe it or not, it’s true whether you like it or not and it is true whether you even know about it or not.  The hand of God is extended with the gift of true freedom, will you take it?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Were you there...

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few thousand words for this Good Friday.

Christ on the Cross, Michelangelo
     Paschal Cycle-Alexy Pismenny

Crucifixion-Boris Vallejo
                             Crucifixion-Emil Nolde
Christ of St. John of the Cross

Salvador Dali            Cruxifixion Corpus Hypercubus

                   Christ Crucified-Diego Velazquez
The Iseneheim Altarpiece-Matthas Grunewald
This last image is particularly moving to me.  As you can see, Christ in this image has sores on his skin resembling severe skin diseases.  The piece was originally painted for a monastary where the monks were known for treating plague and skin diseases.  The image of Christ on the cross in great pain also suffering from similar infirmities to the patients was a reminder of the words of Isaiah "He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Good Hands

“Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit”-Luke 23:46

For six hours Jesus had been hanging on the Cross, and now we get a last look at His suffering face. His whole body is drooping and shivering with the last chill. His breath is growing feebler and feebler – until He gives one long, deep, last sigh – “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus was always submitting Himself to God, and when He died, He died just as He had lived. We too are told to “Commit our way unto the Lord; trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” The Christian may (like Stephen in Acts 7) cry with his last breath, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.”

During the last year of the Civil War, a man paid a visit to the battlefield of Chickamauga, where on the 20th of September, 1863, the Union army was almost destroyed. The battlefield was not then, as now, a beautiful place with stately monuments rising among the trees. It still bore the scars of battle. Over one of the newly made graves, the visitor saw a man on his knees planting flowers. The visitor said to the man, “Is it a son who is buried there?” And the man said “No it’s not a son” – and he went on to explain why he was there to decorate the grave.

He said that he had been drafted into the Confederate army, but just before he was ready to say “good-bye” to his wife and family and report to the training camp, a young man came to see him and said, “You have a wife and family, and when you are gone, you’ll be unable to support them, whereas I am unmarried and have no one depending on me. Let me go in your place.” The offer was accepted and the young man went off in his place to the training camp. At the Battle of Chickamauga he was mortally wounded. The news of his death had drifted back to the southern home of the man whose place he had taken. And as soon as he had saved enough money, he made the journey to Chickamauga, and there he found the grave of his friend with its crude marker.

The visitor was deeply touched by the narrative, and then went on his way over the grim Battlefield. But on the way back, he passed this same grave again. It was now well covered with flowers and on a rough board, at the head of the grave, were carved these four words, “He died for me.”
It is these four words that express the great truth centered in the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary.  He died for you.  Scripture says "...all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."  Then we to can commit our spirit into His hands, and what good hands they are.

Friday, March 22, 2013

How Complete is Complete?

“It is finished”--John 19:30

“It is finished.”  Everything foretold about, and necessary for our salvation is complete! With reference to the attainment of the promised eternal salvation, no works, no penance, no blood, no money, nothing!- is necessary unless one does not believe what “finished” means. As comforting as it is to believe that Jesus has paid the full price for our salvation when He died upon the cross, how sad is it when people remain comfortless and burdened because they believe that they have to complete what Jesus already called complete.

Our Savior Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.”  “It is finished” tells us that Jesus is true to His Word. We, the redeemed who believe the Word of Christ, and trust in His once-for- all completed atonement are numbered among those to whom Psalm 22 makes reference.  “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.”

Wilhelm Besser wrote in The Passion Story,  “They who waste their energy in labor designed to add to or complete the work of Christ, they who, instead of accepting in faith the work of God that justifies the ungodly, they create a Savior according to their own fancy who is to make the virtuous more righteous, or to make penitent sinners gradually purer. They destroy for themselves the blessed message: 'It is finished!'" 
The faith that saves is not built upon personal effort, however sincere.  To pridefully try to complete what Christ called complete, as if Christ actually did not complete what He said He did, is calling Jesus a liar. Being people of flesh and blood who “daily sin much” the penitent sinner relieves an accusing conscience, not by trying harder to do what he can never do or even has to do, but by simply believing  “It is finished!” In believing Christ's words, the child of God respects the Word, and gives Christ and His cross due honor.

In this context Luther said, “ My penitent tears do not justify me. Christ alone has taken my sins away. He cast them into the sea of forgetfulness. This is my defense, a defense which rests upon: ‘It is finished.’”

People who appreciate art do not add another brush-stroke to the painting of a master. It is unthinkable. Why then should the sinner for whom Jesus died, and in whose behalf He declared, “It is finished,” even entertain the idea that the accomplishment of His salvation calls for an addition to what the Master has declared complete?

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.  Thanks be to God!  It is finished.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

All Who Are Thirsty

"I  thirst"--John 19:28
“I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”

If we want to know the enormity of our sin, we need only to sit at the foot of the cross and recognize that these words from Psalm 22 are a reflection of what our Savior suffered.  When originally offered the drink of myrrh and gall that would have alleviated His suffering and hastened His death, Jesus refused to receive it.  He had to be in full control of His senses and drink deeply from the cup of suffering.  For only by doing so could He satisfy the demands of the Law which prounounced death upon the sinner.  to have done less would have left fallen man still under condemnation of eternal death with all its indescribable horror and suffering.  But when He had endured it all, and had fully paid the price, the Son of God desired to see His Father.  He was ready to die.  It was His time, the time selected by Him.  Unto the end Jesus remained in control of all things in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.  "The put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst."

Now He says, “I THIRST.”  The thirst that He felt was not uncommon for someone in His circumstance. A parched throat often accompanies death. But His thirst was more than a dry throat. He thirsts for those for whom He died to come to Him and drink of the refreshing water of salvation. By prophecy, Isaiah 53 says, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied;” After the toil of His soul, the Savior finds satisfaction in every soul that has been redeemed, and who has by faith grasped salvation in Him. Each time that we hear this word, “I thirst” we should appreciate what it is that He suffered, and at the same time daily bring Him satisfaction through our word and action, as well as our living faith and hope. In that manner we declare that Jesus did not thirst in vain. May we satisfy the thirst of the Savior by saying with David, “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”